02. 12. 2014, Forbes.com
The Rise of Green Tech To Clean Up Oil And Gas Wastes
Drought, environmental regulation and the heavy reliance on fresh water are prompting big industrial companies, from oil and gas firms to chemical producers, to look at treating their wastewater for reuse.
That is creating opportunities for wastewater treatment tech developers such as Axine Water Technologies, a Canadian startup that on Wednesday said it just raised $5.6 million CAD ($5.1 million USD) in equity from The Roda Group, Chrysalix Energy Ventures and BDC Venture Capital. It has raised $7.84 million CAD ($7.1 million USD) since its inception in 2012.
Axine is designing a system that uses a metal oxide-coated membrane to produce hydroxy radicals that react with the pollutants in the wastewater. That oxidation process then converts those toxic, organic compounds into elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen.
The company’s intellectual property lies in the recipe for the metal oxide coating and the design of the entire system that take into account factors such as the flow rate of the wastewater (the more polluted the water the slower the flow rate to allow for enough time for oxidizing all the toxic materials) and the energy use (the process requires electricity).
Axine’s approach is an alternative to the conventional use of chemicals such as ozone, hydrogen peroxide and potassium permanganate to neutralize the toxic compounds.
“There is a tremendous interest from industrial companies because they consume a lot of fresh water and produce a lot of wastewater,” said Jonathan Rhone, CEO of Axine. “There’s an increasing cost pressure and the complexity of meeting tougher standards.”
Some of the strong interest to recycle water comes from shale gas companies in the United States. A recent report pointed out that three-quarters of the close to 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011 sit in fairly dry areas, and 55% of them are in regions that face drought. Hydraulic fracking can use up millions of gallons of water for one well.
Recycling wastewater isn’t cheap, though. Despite drought and a greater demand to feed industrial and population growth, water remains relatively cheap. Plus, water utilities are typically slow to embrace and pay for new technologies. Those two factors have made water technology investment less attractive to venture capital investors. Corporate investors and family offices have been more willing to gamble because they don’t have the pressure of delivering a certain amount of returns within a fairly short period of time.
Industrial customers, on the other hand, can make purchasing decisions more quickly, especially when it comes securing something they can’t do without in order to make a profit. The growth of the shale gas business and tighten- ing regulations that require more extensive environmental cleanups are attracting wastewater treatment companies and investors who initially targeted cities and water utilities as customers.
Chrysalix, in particular, likes to invest in clean tech companies that could serve the fossil fuel and mining industries. For example, it has put money into a company called GlassPoint Solar that builds solar-powered steam genera- tors to help oil companies boost their production.
Oil companies such as Total, Chevron, ConocoPhillips also have put money into clean tech startups.
Axine is tailoring its process to industrial wastewater cleanup. The company has lined up customers who are interested in trying out its technology in pilot projects. Rhone declined to disclose their names but said they are in the oil and gas, chemical and waste management businesses.
Axine has done lab trials to see how its technology stacks up against the more common chemical treatments and figured that its process could lower the cost of treating the most toxic wastewaters by five folds or more, Rhone said.
Whether Axine can deliver good savings isn’t for certain, since the company is still working on completing its technology development. The startup plans to use the new funding to achieve that and carry out pilot projects starting in early 2015.